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Underworld: Dark and Long EP (1994)

December 2, 2011

underworld dark and long artworkRoll: 5-8-1
Album:
Underworld, Dark & Long EP (1994)

Rarely has a band so convincingly and successfully reinvented themselves as Underworld did with their 1993 single “Mmm… Skyscraper, I Love You“. The track bears almost no similarity to a pair of dire albums of sub-par INXS-meets-Depeche Mode influenced cock-rock they released in the late ’80s. “Skyscraper”—a quietly throbbing slice of nearly ambient acid house—was quickly followed by classics like “Rez” and “Spoonman” and one of the best cuts from their early renaissance, “Dark & Long“. These singles were all preceded by the less artistically successful first steps toward techno, “Mother Earth“, another track which would help make up their debut full-length, Dubnobasswithmyheadman.

In 1994 “Dark & Long” was released in an excess of six different mixes—most released on 12″—which were also compiled on a pair of CD EPs. The April Records disc (v) compiles six of these versions (“Hall’s Edit“; “Thing in a Book“; “Spoon Deep“; “Dark Hard” ; “Dark Train“; and “Burts“) onto one album length disc.

While multiple versions of a song stretched over 73 minutes is often a recipe for tedium, one thing Underworld have always excelled at is ensuring the various mixes of their tracks stand as entirely new compositions . To the point of, I’ve always suspected, actually being unique compositions. Only the first mix is recognizable as the same song as the one heard on Dubnobasswithmyheadman, making this a suitable companion album.

Another of Underworld’s strengths, one particularly exemplified on this disc, is their ability to create the ultimate in commuting music. Through their repetitive beats and loops are primarily designed for being blasted across chemically enhanced dance floors, they also work perfectly through a set of ear-buds while you construct an imaginary wall between yourself and your fellow subway passengers. For my money, only Neu! and Radiohead‘s coldly modernist paranoia as successfully capture the rhythm of a large, post-industrial city and expose the rusty skeleton beneath the sagging skin of seeping grime—something the Tomato-designed cover artwork captures perfectly as well.

Barring the first track, the disc is almost entirely devoid of vocals (“Dark Train” has some minimal mutterings) and the 20-minute “Thing In A Book” kicks off the remaining hour-plus of hypnotic, trans-European grooves to carry you comfortably through even the most tedious transit experience.

Or get you primed for a night of clubbing. Your choice.

Underworld’s music is nothing if not versatile. Karl Hyde‘s half-spoken stream of consciousness lyrics are engaging on a poetic level yet merge with the hyperactive lull of the music enough that their records can also be used as background music. It only demands as much attention as you want to pay it at any given time, but is sophisticated enough to be rewarding when given a more serious listen.

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